That was then, this is now

by on December 3, 2015 at 2:15 pm in Books, Current Affairs, History | Permalink

From the headlines:

The economy of Greece is in shambles.  Internal rebellions have engulfed Libya, Syria, and Egypt, with outsiders and foreign warriors fanning the flames.  Turkey fears it will become involved, as does Israel. Jordan is crowded with refugees.  Iran is bellicose and threatening, while Iraq is in turmoil.  AD 2031? Yes.  But it was also the situation in 1177 BC, more than three thousand years ago,when Bronze Age Mediterranean civilizations collapsed one after the other, changing forever the course and the future of the Western world.  It was a pivotal moment in history — a turning point for the ancient world.

That is from Eric H. Cline, 1177 B.C. The Year Civilization Collapsed, an interesting read.

1 Thor December 3, 2015 at 2:36 pm

As an undergrad in History, I once attended a lecture by a prof who listed the various wars and conflagrations of what we call the “Middle East” from the Sumerians onwards. It took 20 minutes.

2 commentateur December 6, 2015 at 12:52 pm

And yerp?

3 Barkley Rosser December 3, 2015 at 2:57 pm

That short of an amount of time, Thor?

Plus la change, plus la meme.

4 Thor December 3, 2015 at 3:01 pm

He spoke quickly!

Indeed. And that should give us pause for thought.

5 brad December 3, 2015 at 3:00 pm

Strange timing, I just started reading this book last night.

6 dearieme December 3, 2015 at 3:17 pm

“interesting”? Harsh!

7 Dangerman December 3, 2015 at 3:23 pm

Probably the best book I’ve read in 2015, highly recommend.

8 Dan in Philly December 3, 2015 at 3:29 pm

I wouldn’t call the book incredibly digestible. I’m an omnivore but this book was a bit too much like a book written for other historians than for amateurs like me.

9 MOFO. December 3, 2015 at 4:29 pm

What do you mean by that exactly? I ask because i recently tried to get through a book that was so full of general statements followed by paragraphs worth of caveats, exceptions and “to be sure’s” that it was unreadable. It was like the author new other historians would attack him and so had to hedge everything he said, to the detriment of readability.

10 JENettnay December 3, 2015 at 7:26 pm

I just read the book yesterday and I found the structure of the book lacking. EH Cline tries to pack too many stories into one book.

I’d skip the book and watch on Youtube the lecture he gave to The Oriental Institute in Chicago.

11 ed December 3, 2015 at 4:24 pm

I see the stalker still hasn’t taken the hint.

12 Art Deco December 4, 2015 at 8:00 am

I don’t recall the moderator announcing anyone was banned. It’s rather irregular he’d have ex parte communications with you of all people.

13 D. B. Light December 3, 2015 at 4:43 pm

I found the book more than a little frustrating. He takes a kitchen sink approach, listing multiple [but by no means all] factors suggested by specialists as possible causes for the “collapse”; he then refuses to prioritize them, arguing that what happened was a “perfect storm” of factors that brought down the “cosmopolitan” network of cultures that characterized the late Bronze Age. The book is a decent survey of that network of cultures and exchanges, but when it comes to the big question of why it collapsed there is little satisfaction.

14 MikeP December 4, 2015 at 12:57 am

Agreed. I suspect the root cause has to do with the people of the steppe becoming restless, as happened again in the latter half of the fifth century CE.

Puzzling is that the iron age emerges out of the bronze age collapse. It emerges after early writing, at least that of the Mycanean/Greeks, was lost. It’s as if we jumped straight to the high Renaissance from the dark ages.

15 E.H December 4, 2015 at 8:32 am

What steppe? Libya?

16 E.H December 4, 2015 at 8:39 am

Lebanon was the origin of the Alphabet, and, as I pointed out in a deleted comment, it remained surprisingly unaffected by the BAC.

17 MikeP December 4, 2015 at 10:50 am

Linear A/B is lost at the Bronze Age collapse. Eurasian steppe obviously.

18 rayward December 3, 2015 at 4:52 pm

I certainly sympathize with the unfortunate who have suffered from this rampage, but let’s not lose sight of the very different threat that it poses to us or to civilization. The Germans in the 1930s and 1940s could have destroyed civilization, but they didn’t. Millions, millions, died from the Germans’ rampage but civilization prevailed. To the families of the thousands who have died in this rampage it may feel like it’s another catastrophe on the same level of the catastrophe of the Germans’ rampage, but it’s not. Civilization prevailed over the Germans, and civilization with prevail this time.

19 derek December 3, 2015 at 7:49 pm

You describe those events as if it just happened. I’ll believe you when someone talks seriously about nuking as opposed to spending blood and treasure in a land invasion.

20 Horhe December 4, 2015 at 9:49 am

I hardly think the Germans were a barbarian horde. They were an advanced country doing its own nuclear research and close to a breakthrough. Not to mention the rocketry. We disagree with their politics and social practices, but there is no doubt that the aftermath of a war won by them would have also been the perpetuation of science, history, literature. Western Civilization fought itself here, to the detriment of the world. With the exception of China, the world is a sewer compared to what could have been had W. Civ. not self-immolated in two useless wars (WW2 deriving from the first one). Every civil war in colonial Africa could have been averted, the communist destruction of Eastern European societies etc etc. Turtledove needs to make another alternative history series.

21 Kris December 4, 2015 at 12:05 pm

I hardly think the Germans were a barbarian horde.

Between 1933 and 1945, they were.

the world is a sewer compared to what could have been had W. Civ. not self-immolated in two useless wars

The world of today is a better place to live by at least an order of magnitude compares to what it was prior to WW1 or WW2. Much of the world is not subject to western domination as it was then, which is what you seem to celebrate. People like me say: good riddance. The negative aspects of Western Civilization (the urge to dominate, the colonial impulse, social Darwinism, racism) dies well-deserved deaths during the WW1-WW2 period.

Every civil war in colonial Africa could have been averted

Think of Europe pre- and post- (or during) the 30 years war. Then tell me if you would pass similar judgment on the Europe of that period as you pass on the Africans of today.

22 Horhe December 5, 2015 at 11:16 am

Are you really falling into that tired old trope of Westerners being the only ones capable of racism? Racism exists everywhere and it’s least present in the West, where it’s still being used as a club to beat people over the head with like accusations of witchcraft.

Europe pre and post 30 years war, while horrible, is not in the same position as Africa. Africa should know better. Technology, information, models, plus developed capital markets and consumption markets, everything the West developed piecemeal and through painful trial and error is at its finger tips. This is how China, Japan and Korea could grow so quickly. I’m passing judgement on Africa and on my own country for not living up to its potential because passing judgement, though passe today, is an essential human faculty.

Admittedly, I come from a materialist perspective. For me, the idea of avoiding 40 million deaths in WW1 and 80 million in WW2, while ensuring better governance and development in the rest of the world, sounds pretty good. Ennui would have set in eventually, and independence would have followed, but in much better terms. 2 questions: 1. Do you think that the vast majority of South Africa’s Black population (outside the elite) has better living standards and economic perspectives now than under Apartheid? and 2. Do you think that some of the African wars are headed to some sort of positive denouement like in Europe where the purges, assimilations, expulsions, eventually resulted in strong, fairly homogeneous states that could imagine something as abstract as the public interest and pursue it? No matter how much the Tutsis and Hutu fight, they’re still stuck with each other because Western intervention keeps their conflict in limbo, without any resolution. If they’re going to fight forever because we won’t let them settle it, one way or another, then it stands to reason that the colonial influence that kept local hostilities at bay is preferable for the purpose of material advancement.

Besides, it’s not like African countries are truly free. You are not independent if you’ve received trillions in aid since gaining independence, or when your elites are called the tribe of Mercedes Benz, or the elites have a power dependency on foreign capitals (Washington and Moscow during the Cold War). With the exception of the Persian Gulf, none of those countries reverted to pre-colonial forms of government that were more suited to their character, history, temperament. Colonialism was at least done through indirect rule, relying on traditional power structures at local and maybe regional level. Why do you think the Hausa and Fulani Emirs in Nigeria did not want Nigeria’s independence? There were fewer colonial administrators than there are NGO Westerners today (or Western companies playing at local power politics) and they got the job done a lot better. You know, things that matter a lot, like building roads, encouraging commerce, fighting against diseases. Look at what 5-6 decades tops of colonialism accomplished in Africa (yes, that’s how long it lasted, for which Westerners are responsible in perpetuity) before it went to hell. You should look now, before the jungle claims most of what’s left. Why do you think the African population shot through the roof? On the basis of colonial infrastructure and all the aid since then.

23 bob December 3, 2015 at 4:59 pm

You mentioned Greece, Syria, Egypt, Turkey, Israel, Jordan, Iraq and Iran. I wonder what your thoughts are on Lebanon.

24 ohwilleke December 3, 2015 at 5:22 pm

Save us all if we have another Bronze Age collapse (which in 1777 BCE was triggered by a severe natural climate event).

25 scout December 3, 2015 at 8:56 pm

Climate events probably precipitated the movements but the “long” collapse is really just the transition from bronze -> iron. Bronze required sophisticated techniques and large trade networks. Iron was an inferior technology, but with enough skill you could make it in your “back yard” so to speak. (Dunno know what the main thrust of Cline’s book is here and whether it speaks to that). It seems headed in that direction with current technology– eventually “inferior” technologies are going to become accessible enough to reach a tipping point, but it might take along time, I’d put an upper limit of about 1000 years.

26 IVV December 4, 2015 at 10:18 am

Accessibility trumps quality. The technology only available for the few (while the masses must remain content with scraps) will fall to the technology that raises the capabilities of the masses. It’s the story of the Agricultural Revolution, the Bronze-Iron transition, the printing press, the Internet, the Industrial Revolution… the list goes on and on.

27 Razib Ahmed December 3, 2015 at 6:03 pm

History repeats itself and hardly any of us learn from it.

28 December 3, 2015 at 7:50 pm

What about the AD 2015 sea people? Cline is pretty sure who the sea peoples were in BC 1177.

29 scout December 3, 2015 at 8:42 pm

Who does he say they were? The depictions of the Egyptians match those of Sardinians, some of them were probably Greeks.

30 Ray Lopez December 3, 2015 at 9:25 pm

The Sea Peoples were Greeks? If Dorics (blondes from the north) are Greeks maybe…or if a rude Greek can be considered a Philistine. … today’s Sea Peoples are negro (Spanish word). And as I recall around the time of the Sea Peoples the Jews did roughly OK (regional powerhouse).

BTW I like books without structure, as history is sometimes (like economics) just one damn fact after another, without rhyme or reason. People who try to put a gloss on it fail, though there are rules of thumb that seem to work (empires last roughly 200 years is one pretty iron-cast rule of thumb… 1776 + 200 = 1976 = wage / productivity slowdown in the USA)

31 Horhe December 4, 2015 at 9:56 am

Yes, Mr. Lopez, the god of empire came and took the US’ economic mojo. It couldn’t be related to it screwing the pooch with the 1965 Immigration Act and the consequent accelerating loss of social capital and trust and the alienation of US elites from the population. Maybe there is a certain madness here and, had it not been immigrants, the US would have shot itself in the foot another way, out of the self-destructive tendencies of late empires? But I hardly think the US became an empire in 1776. Let’s say it did during the conquest of the Philippines from 1898 onwards. So, it still has 80+ years to go. Can you imagine? It can get worse.

32 December 4, 2015 at 7:15 pm

Cline talked about Sea Peoples

Cline said that some of the Sea Peoples were previously employed by Egypt to attack other countries. A type of ancient blow-backs ?

I think Cline also was pondering if ISIS is the modern version of the Sea People (can not locate the point in the
video). But an article actually mentioned this

“Maybe, Cline suggests, ISIS are a sort of latter-day Sea People, bursting into the void created as the world
collapses around them, causing mass migrations of large groups that destabilize the lands to which they flee.”

33 December 4, 2015 at 7:26 pm
34 Scott Sumner December 3, 2015 at 8:05 pm

Although there are some interesting anecdotes, overall I was disappointed by the book. I know it’s hard to provide definitive proof for claims about broad trends in the world 3200 years ago, but I was surprised by how little actual evidence was provided. It seems like approximately 1200 BC might have been a turning point, or maybe not. I knew that before reading the book.

35 Edward Burke December 3, 2015 at 9:00 pm

Civilization: a vehicle without brakes whose system of propulsion is sheer momentum–its velocity is apparent only as it runs downhill.

36 Art Deco December 3, 2015 at 10:47 pm

What’s the point of deleting a post which talked about some ancient stelae?

37 ed December 3, 2015 at 11:24 pm

When you’re banned you’re banned. Maybe Harding can comment on your blog and you can comment on his. Then no one else will have to reader either of your idiotic posts.

38 Art Deco December 4, 2015 at 7:57 am

Seems pretty silly to ban ‘Harding’ inasmuch as the moderators tolerate several people who chase other commenters around offering nothing but stupid jabs and sour insults, especially since one of these has a history of sockpuppeting other participant.

39 Ed December 4, 2015 at 9:02 am

If you feel that way then don’t ban him on your fascinating and popular blog. I thought you right wing lunatics held private property in high regard?

40 ed December 4, 2015 at 12:15 am

Find a quality dictionary and look up “de facto”.

41 Art Deco December 4, 2015 at 7:58 am


42 Tom Warner December 4, 2015 at 12:48 am

I expected it to be worse than it was. It gave the impression that it was going to provide a very oversimplified story – after all the only empires that collapsed were the Mycenaean and Hittite. Much of the Levant also devastated, Egypt weakened. Assyria actually rose. But he at least ended up being relatively honest about the lack of clear answers as to why it happened. He is out of date on a lot of details (especially embarrassing to still be pushing the Aryan racist version of Mittani history). But most pop ancient history is.

From an economics perspective, he did a fairly good job of bringing out what we know about trade in the period. But he didn’t really apply economics in his approach to the various invasions that get lumped together as “sea peoples.” Mounting seaborne attacks over the Mediterranean in the late bronze age was an expensive endeavor. These were wealthy well equipped armies, not refugees. Surely the Mycenaean Greeks and various other Aegean, Cyprian and southern Anatolian powers were involved in the conflagration. Surely not such far away and as yet uncivilized countries as Sicility and Sardinia much less the mythical “Dorian invasion” which was invented in the 6th-5th century BC by Anatolian Greeks adapting the Noah legend.

43 Ray Lopez December 4, 2015 at 1:45 am

Well said, though why seaborne attacks are expensive is not clear. True, Minoan civilization had a monopoly on Mediterranean sea power but by 1400 BCE they had disappeared. So anybody with a boat could navigate the ocean, no? Recall primitive man in 50k BCE colonized Cyprus from the mainland of Turkey, using some sort of raft. Just speculating.

44 yo December 4, 2015 at 2:48 am

Well, if you don’t have enough boats (idle capital but during your invasion!) the troops arrive piecemeal (or “by the boatload” to insert a witty comment) and are slaughtered one by one.

45 yo December 4, 2015 at 2:53 am

Just play Boom Beach to understand this dynamic

46 Tom Warner December 4, 2015 at 2:52 am

Naval expeditions are expensive because you need a large amount of men, sturdy boats, weapons, armor and food. The men needed to be in excellent shape to hard row for many hours each day over a period of weeks. Homer’s epics describe the days of feasting before going out to sea – and those are written about six centuries later, after improvements in boats had made the physical duress lighter. The traditional “sea peoples” story of poor starving refugees of 1200 BC getting on boats and rowing across the Mediterranean for weeks and then being in condition to threaten Egyptian troops is just plain ridiculous.

The attacks on Egypt and the Levant aren’t that hard to explain. Egypt was the biggest power of the Mediterranean and was trying to dominate sea trade. Then a group of its rivals from the northern side of the Mediterranean, including Lycians and Greeks, banded together and struck back, both at Egypt’s provinces and at Egypt proper.

The mystery is what happened to the Hittite and Mycenaean Greek empires. We know that their cities were sacked and largely abandoned. But we do not know who the attackers were, and there’s just no point guessing when the evidence is missing.

The supposed Phrygian invasion of Anatolia and the supposed Dorian invasion of the Peloponnese are relatively young myths. In the Homeric epics the Phrygians are already in Anatolia during the Trojan war. The Dorian migration legend, which 19th century Hellenists turned into the myth of the Dorian invasion, was actually set around 2000 BC in the original Greek version. It’s part of the Greek version of the legend of Noah and his sons, in which a king Deucalion survives the flood and his sons and grandsons establish the major tribes of the Greek nation. This story was introduced in the “Catalogues of Women,” a somewhat Genesis-like poem of mid-6th century BC that was falsely attributed to Hesiod, a revered 7th century BC poet. We can tell it was written in Anatolia, probably Miletus, because it broke the Greek nation into three groups according to the division of Anatolian Greeks: Aeolians, Ionians and Dorians. There is no evidence that mainland or Peloponnesian Greeks identified themselves with those names before the 5th century BC, and only due to the popularity of the Hesiodic Catalogues.

These Aeolians, Ionians and Dorians supposedly split up and spread across Greece in the generations after Deucalion, and later sent colonies out to Anatolia. And that’s the genesis of the Dorian migration legend: it’s the story of how Doros and his clan supposedly traveled from Thessaly, where Deucalion was supposed to be king, south to the Peloponnese.

There’s no evidence this story was ever accepted by Thessalians or Peloponnesians. So far as we know, no Spartan ever considered himself Dorian or gave a damn about the “Dorian” legend. The story was only popular in Ionia, where it presumably originated (in an adaptation of a Mesopotamian story), and in Attica. The Deucalion legend was probably popular there because it (wrongly) made Athens into an early progenitor of Ionian culture. Thucydides was especially influential in promoting it.

But again, this was set many hundreds of years before the Trojan war, before Cadmus, before Danaeus, way way back in the past. The ancient Greeks never thought of the Dorian migration legend as having anything to do with the fall of Mycenae. The resetting of it to the late bronze age collapse is an error of 19th century historians.

47 josh December 4, 2015 at 8:16 am

So this is all very interesting and new to me, and you sound so confident. For my own peace of mind, could you give some reason why I should believe you? Cite something or other, perhaps? It would be greatly appreciated.

48 E.H December 4, 2015 at 8:29 am

The Phrygian migration was real; there was also a migration of Hittites to the South and East. Good point on the needed preparations, though. And, indeed, the evidence doesn’t support a real Dorian migration.

49 E.H December 4, 2015 at 8:40 am

Also, it’s pretty clear the Philistines settled the valley of Antioch and the Philistine coast en masse.

50 Ray Lopez December 4, 2015 at 10:33 am

Very nice, thanks. “the Dorian migration legend, which 19th century Hellenists turned into the myth of the Dorian invasion, was actually set around 2000 BC” – interesting,and I recall some archaeologists finding some sort of invasion in Greece around 2000 BC, which displaced the ‘native’ Greeks and substituted the sky god “Zeus” for the earth goddess “Hera”.

PS–When I was in Greece I walked among relics that were at least 2000 years old (Roman era) and could touch them, even steal them if I wanted to (I also walked–with my socks–on Roman mosaic floors). We kept an eye out for foreign tourists (I am Greek) that were trying to steal these relics (mostly pottery shards, which are legion), and sadly there was no police or monitoring system in place (it was August, so all the archaeologists were on holiday). I also discovered–and could not believe it, since I have never read about it in history books in English–that Mycenaean Greeks settled in the Ionian sea area. Previously and as per most history books I had read they were only in the Aegean.

51 jonfraz December 4, 2015 at 2:39 pm

Ionian and Dorian are well attested dialects of ancient Greek so there is some basis for assuming that division was a real one.

52 E.H December 4, 2015 at 8:24 am

It makes sense for Sardinia to have been the source, not destination of migrants because, IIRC, it suffered no major cultural change during the BAC and the primary direction of migration was from West to East.

53 jonfraz December 4, 2015 at 2:35 pm

The Chinese Shang dynasty collapsed around the same time, but was replaced by the Chou. Civilization certainly didn’t disappear.

54 Rich Rostrom December 4, 2015 at 2:36 am

Yabbut in 1177 BCE, the Near and Middle East was all the civilization there was, barring early stage China. Today it’s only a small part of civilization. Aside from the Persian Gulf oil, there’s nothing really important there.

55 Hazel Meade December 4, 2015 at 10:11 am

So, all this happened a few years after the destruction of Troy, right? Anyone think that the destruction of Troy might have played a pivotal role in the collapse of the regional economy and political order?

56 Hazel Meade December 4, 2015 at 10:12 am

Test. My previous comment got lost somehow…

57 Hazel Meade December 4, 2015 at 10:12 am

Wierd. Stuff is appearing out of order.

58 Ed December 4, 2015 at 12:15 pm

It’s because of Tyler’s creepy stalker. If you reply to him your comments will end up contextless at the bottom when his posts are deleted.

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